Ken Blomberg: “Up the Creek”
Up the Creek
Ken M. Blomberg
“Papa, it’s time for me to get a real fishing pole,” exclaimed my 5-year-old granddaughter. “Alright,” I replied. “Then it’s time we go fishing. Can we bring your little brother?”
“I suppose, but he’s too little for a real fishing pole.”
So, off to the sporting goods department at Fleet Farm I went. There I found a spin cast reel on sale and a Spiderman reel and pole for my 2-year-old grandson. A couple dozen angleworms and an invite to our in-law’s cabin on a Waushara County lake was all we needed to make her wish come true. Ten small panfish later and my grandkids were hooked for life.
Recruiting youngsters these days into the world of the outdoors apparently is no easy task according to experts. Too many indoor distractions. Apparently, smart phones and other electronic devices have replaced fishing poles and sporting guns.
It’s no secret that the ranks of hunters and anglers are dropping in numbers. According to a recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) shows that today, only about 5 percent of Americans, 16 years old and older, hunt. Remarkedly, that’s only half of what it was 50 years ago, and the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decade. Wisconsin has seen similar trends. During the current ruffed grouse season length debate in Madison, it was noted that the number of grouse hunters have dropped nearly 50 per cent from the 1980s.
Several years ago, the USFWS estimated that 938,000 Wisconsin residents 16 and older went fishing in Wisconsin. The estimated per capita participation rate is approximately 20 percent, twice the national average. That’s good news.
According to Wisconsin DNR internal data, fishing license sales have stabilized or slightly increased in Wisconsin over the past 15 years. Despite that bright note, and with overall statistics in mind, as part of the 2015-2017 State Budget, Wisconsin’s legislature directed the DNR to “consult with stakeholders and prepare a report to the Joint Committee on Finance on a plan to address an imbalance in the state’s Fish and Wildlife Account.”
Historically, state wildlife agencies and the country’s wildlife conservation system have been largely dependent on sportsmen for funding. Money generated from license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and angling equipment provide about 60 percent of the funding for state wildlife and fish management agencies.Meanwhile, participation in birdwatching, hiking and photography, are rapidly growing. Recent suggestions for access fees to state wildlife areas for those non-consumptive uses was introduced and met with general support.
In addition, as part of the DNR’s overall strategy to curb the overall loss of dollars in their fish and game budgets, hunting initiatives are being introduced that are meant to retain old hunters, reactivate those who have quit the sport and to recruit new hunters. Last month, I attended the summer meeting of the Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association (WOCA) in Eagle River.
At that gathering, Keith Warnke, Wisconsin DNR R3 Coordinator, spoke of their recruit, reactivate, retrain (R3) program. Warnke described how the state is looking for new hunters that don’t fit the traditional definition. They are now advertising in urban areas, displaying at farmers markets, staffing community events, offering free classes on college campuses, teaching hunter’s safety, hands-on butchering clinics, and capitalizing on a renewed interest in diets of wild meat.
My sons and grandchildren had the advantage of growing up in a hunting, fishing and birdwatching family that happened to live in a rural setting. That sparked a lifelong interest in the outdoors that will be passed on to their children. Let’s hope the state’s new R3 program picks up those who did not have that advantage.
Blomberg is the author of two books, UP THE CREEK, and WISCONSIN BIRD HUNTING TALES. Both are available at either amazon.com,barnesandnoble.com or arcadiapublishing.com. Autographed copies are available from the author at [email protected].